An account of the lessons learned by a son and his father as they study the Greek epic together.
There have been plenty of gimmicky books about returning to the classics and unearthing the contemporary implications and timeless wisdom therein. This sharply intelligent and deeply felt work operates on an entirely different level—several of them, in fact. A frequent contributor to the New Yorker and New York Times Book Review and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, Mendelsohn (Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, 2012, etc.) is also a classics scholar who teaches a seminar on The Odyssey at Bard College. His father, a retired mathematician and research scientist, had been interested in the classics during his school days and decided to continue his education by studying with his son. The two also embarked on an educational cruise that attempts to re-create the journey of Odysseus. This would seem to present challenges for a man nearing his 82nd birthday, but it proved to be more of a trial for his son. Ultimately, this is a book about what they learn about each other and what they know about each other and what they can never know about each other. The author uses a close reading of the epic to illuminate the mysteries of the human condition, and he skillfully and subtly interweaves the classroom textual analysis and the lessons of the life outside it. “That’s how I was trained, and that’s how the people who trained me were trained,” he writes. “If the work has real coherence, all these details will add up, even if they’re not noticeable at first and even if the big picture isn’t clear. Only by means of close reading can we understand what the big picture is and how the pieces, the small things, fit into it.” Revelations for Mendelsohn provide epiphanies for readers as well.
A well-told story that underscores the power of storytelling.